Security is paramount in every aspect of life, that’s why we have locks on our houses, seatbelts and airbags in cars, banks for our money, bouncers in the clubs and the police roaming the streets in patrol cars. Well our information needs some security as well, and computer security isn’t just about having good antivirus software and a 120 character password. Black outs, brownouts and power surges are not exactly extreme cases, they happen all the time.

Thus the need arises for some additional security provided by UPS devices. Once you decide that you don’t want to gamble against the wrath of nature and human incompetence (spoiler alert: they eventually win) and realize a UPS is an essential piece of equipment you will be face with a problem.

What kind of UPS should I buy? What kinds are there? What are the criteria? These are just some of the questions that commonly pop up when I talk to people about this topic, so I will do my best to give you the information you will need to go out into the world, a wiser and better prepared person.

What kind of backup power do I need?
UPS devices vary greatly in size and can include anything from small units that can power a desktop computer (tower + monitor) for about 15 minutes to big UPS units powering data centers and even entire buildings. Unlike a generator they can only provide as much power as their battery allows, so you need to be careful when deciding on battery capacity.

What you will need to know is the power supply size in watts, so you know what kind of UPS to get. You can get this information by using a wattmeter to get the readings. There are digital wattmeters that can be plugged into the socket and then you simply plug the computer right into it and get an easy reading that way. Alternatively you can get the information of the back of the tower and monitor and sum them up to get the power in watts.

The simplest thing you can do is give this information to the person in the shop and tell them how long you want the UPS to be able to power your computer. You are generally looking for 15-30 minutes, but you can go for an hour or more. The longer you want it to run, the greater the battery capacity will have to be and the more money you will have to spend.

Online calculators
A lot of sites that sell UPS devices and UPS replacement batteries offer will have a simple way of calculating what you need. They provide calculators which allow you to choose your specific setup (motherboard and processor, RAM memory, graphics card, etc.) from a list of commercially available components and brand names. Alternatively, if you don’t know all the components, you can get a rough estimate or use a calculator that requires you to input watts. The second thing you input will be the desired run time. What you get in the end is how many watts the UPS needs to be to suit your needs. Just look around the web for UPS power requirements.

What brand should I get?
This one is actually pretty easy, because you basically have two options.  You can go for a cheap piece of equipment that will provide enough power for about 10 minutes and you can save some money initially. The problem with this approach is that you will have to replace the batteries more often and the thing will break on you soon enough. Refurbished UPS devices are the ones that have been sent back in after purchase but have been deemed usable, so they will be substantially cheaper, but you will get what you pay for. The best way to go is to spend a little more money initially and save yourself a lot of trouble and expenses in the future.

APC (American Power Conversion) is a company with a long track-record and they produce some of the highest quality equipment out there, but they are more expensive than others. However you will be spending your money on  products that pass rigorous quality control standards. Their UPS will last a good few years before you need to buy APC replacement batteries, and they will come with a warranty and all the bells and whistles, like monitoring temperature and humidity and automatic safe shutdown when the batteries get too low.

In the end it’s up to you to try and find the best solution given what you have to work with and your financial situation. Just keep in mind that any protection is better than no protection , so start calculating your power output and get the best deal you can.

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